For those who can stand the heat of its desert location, the capital city of Bahrain, Manama, and its surroundings have much to attract outdoor fans. From water sports and golf to parks and wildlife sanctuaries through spas, water parks, go-cart tracks and the arid desert centre of the island, to its most famous event, the annual Formula One Grand Prix, there are plenty of reasons to get out into the sun. Just remember to use sun cream and wear a hat to avoid sunburn or sunstroke.
Manama’s Bahrain International Circuit is home to the most famous fast car races in the world, the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, normally held in March, but cancelled in 2011 due to the Bahraini version of the Arab Spring uprising. First held in 2004, the race attracts a huge number of visitors, with hotels in Manama booked solid months in advance of the event. The venue, completed for the 2004 race, immediately became the centre of motor racing in the Persian Gulf, attracting drag races, Formula Three races, the Australian VA Supercar series and GT races.
Motorsports fans visiting the kingdom outside scheduled race dates can take a fascinating tour around the circuit, its facilities and attractions, including the media centre and race control tower, with a drive around the famous circuit possible at certain times. Go-Karting fans can also drive a recently upgraded dedicated circuit with a brand new track including 10 different track configurations and state-of-the-art Karts. World championship Karting events will be held on the new track.
For families with kids in tow, Al Areen’s Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park is a fun day out, with its rides, water chutes, lazy river, wave pool. sandy beach and fake ruins inspired by Bahrain’s ancient Dilmun culture. The desert-based Camel Farm at Janabiya stages camel races, camel rides and camel-feeding sessions – the traditionally grumpy beasts of burden are apparently quite friendly here, especially the babies.
Boat cruises along the coast use traditional wooden dhows, sailing vessels in use here for many hundreds of years. Exploring Manama Bay, the port of Mina Salman and Muharraq Island is enhanced by a traditional meal of local spiced dishes and Arabic music. Also on offer are packages including swimming, snorkelling, dolphin watching and sunset dinner cruises. Fishing, either from dhows of from the shore, is popular here, with the many fish species queuing up to be caught, examined and thrown back – hopefully. In case you neglected to bring your fishing gear, it can easily be bought in local markets and souks.
True to its leisure tourism roots, Manama is well set up for golfers, with the Awali Golf Club one of the oldest in the region and the exclusive, luxurious Royal Golf Club has a challenging championship course courtesy of legendary golfer Colin Montgomerie.
Diving, windsurfing and waterskiing are all offered by beachside hotels and operators, and horse riding is supported by four equestrian centres. Bahrain is now the only centre for breeding traditional Arab horses, with the Royal Arabian Stud its heart. The Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club holds regular race meets, although betting is disallowed.
Ecotourists aren’t forgotten in Manama, with a few enlightened travel companies in the city specialising in environmental tours to remote destinations on the Hawar Islands as well as to the desert interior of Bahrain. Indigenous and endangered species in the archipelago’s many diverse land and watery habitats include sooty falcons, the reem gazelle, arabian oryx, sea dugong and many other butterfly, bird and reptile species. Birding in particular is becoming popular in Bahrain.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Hotels in Manama content.